Kim Carrier is still haunted by the time she saw a homeless man sharing a sandwich with his dog. Hungry people, she decided, shouldn’t have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pets. So she starting dropping off dog food for the man.

Then she asked herself what seemed like a simple question: “If I could do it for him, how could I do it for more people in the community?”

It’s taken her years to answer that question — and she’s not done.

Carrier, who owns Hairesy hair salon in south Minneapolis, started out by asking pet food stores for donations, which she offered to local food shelves.

In 2009, she founded People & Pets Together, an all-volunteer nonprofit that distributes a half-ton of donated pet food and supplies each month to nine food shelves in the Twin Cities area.

She’s the linchpin of a core group of about 10 dedicated volunteers, but the organization boasts a roster of 130 volunteers, including 40 veterinarians, vet techs and students. It works closely with animal rescue groups and retailers that help with donations. In addition to stocking local food shelves, it offers information about vaccination clinics around the Twin Cities area and about reduced-cost veterinary care.

In late December or early January, Carrier plans to open Minnesota’s first food shelf dedicated to pets, in an empty storefront on Bloomington Avenue S. next to her salon.

“It was really the only way we could move forward,” she said. “We have all reached our capacity operating out of our homes. There’s no storage. We’re all working 40 to 60 hours a week in our free time.”

From project to mission

Carrier, 42, admits she’s been “crazy about animals” her entire life.

“Ever since I could walk, I would drag home anything that didn’t have a leash,” she said.

She was working part-time at a pet store — using the extra money to help pay for the food for Rosie, her black Lab mix, and Stella, a collie mix — when the recession hit.

It broke her heart to watch longtime customers lose jobs or take pay cuts, and then struggle to feed their pets, which often were a source of comfort.

“These people had a face for us,” she said.

Her original idea had been a project to help people hang onto their pets if they hit hard times. But once she got started, she realized how “sadly overwhelming” the need is.

She also realized just how hard it is to find money to help pets get fed.

Because People & Pets Together is neither an animal welfare group nor a human services organization, it’s ineligible for grants that could defray operating costs or pay staff. The organization relies solely on donations from the community and from charity fundraisers, including the pet-friendly Fast and Furry walk/run event and sales of calendars sold at the annual Bark @ Art gallery show.

That’s why Carrier’s organization is so essential, said Dr. Susan Miller, a veterinarian who owns the nonprofit Mission Animal Hospital in Hopkins.

One day without food can make a cat sick, she said, and dogs are easily stressed if they go hungry or have inconsistent diets.

“Having that resource is really important,” Miller said.

Feeding a pet takes more than pocket change. It can cost $1,500 a year to care for a healthy medium-sized dog and about $1,000 for a cat, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A job loss, illness, divorce or move can stress family finances and living arrangements, making it hard to keep pets — or keep them healthy.

“We want to eliminate barriers and reasons people give up their pets, or let them go free or suffer,” Miller said. “Pet nutrition is a good part of it.”

Finding a home

In mid-October, People & Pets Together hosted an open house in its unfinished space, which brought in about 1,000 pounds in pet food and about $4,300 in donations, plus the promise of more.

Dawn Cobb, co-founder and president of Northland Natural Pet, said she plans to become a major contributor to the pet food shelf when it opens.

“There are lots of organizations in need,” Cobb said, “but this one is unique because it’s a food shelf.”

Carrier hopes that establishing a permanent storefront in the Powderhorn neighborhood will allow People & Pets Together to expand its network of food shelves, increase the amount of food it delivers and maybe even hire a paid staffer. She’s signed a two-year lease on the space and is trying to get the phones working and establish a workable schedule.

Already, though, she can see a time when the nonprofit will need a warehouse to keep the supplies moving. But she’s trying to keep her enthusiasm in check.

“We’re all about growing responsibly,” she said.

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What: The Minneapolis nonprofit provides pet food and supplies to nine Twin Cities area food shelves in Anoka, Bloomington, Cambridge, Elk River, Hopkins, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Stillwater.

What’s new: The organization is opening the state’s first pet-only food shelf by the end of the year at 3755 Bloomington Av. S., Minneapolis.

For more information: Call the shelter at 612-722-9998, or go to peopleandpetstogether.org or the group’s Facebook page to find out how to contribute time, money or food.

 

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335